"So I said, 'Think of me as a professional moron,' " I told my friend.
"That's how you want to be remembered by them?" she said. "Oh, goodness. Now moron is your brand."
For a time I thought it somehow daring to insult myself. But then I witnessed people far, far more senior than myself doing exactly the same thing.
- "Tell it to me like I'm stupid."
- "Pretend I'm simple."
- "Imagine that you're talking to your mother."
By reducing a senior communicator to a less intimidating level, statements like this can help a subject matter expert improve their communication.
Often, however, a dialogue about better words doesn't help anything at all. Because in some organizations, what seems like "poor performance" -- including bad communication -- is exactly what's required. Words that confuse, mislead, obfuscate, and shade the truth -- to the point of outright denial of reality -- can be used, are often used, as arrows in the quiver.
Propaganda. Psyops. Gaslighting. The list of Orwellian terms and techniques goes on and on and on.
Obviously, using tricky words is ethically and sometimes legally wrong. For example -- all jokes and criticism aside -- federal government communication is required to be clear and understandable, and propaganda is not allowed.
But even if one were to put morals aside, it's shortsighted to use words that mislead. In doing this, you sow the seeds of mistrust down the road. You confuse people within your own organization. And you destroy any long-term equity that would result from a cohesive, authentic brand.
Maybe it's not cool to suggest being simple. But I think it's the way to go.
Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., is a communications specialist in government, as well as a blogger and speaker on branding and social media. The views expressed are her own and do not represent a federal agency or the government as a whole. Follow her on Twitter at @oursocialfuture.